Six lessons from a Baptist church renaissance
The future is looking brighter for a church in an isolated part of southern Italy thanks to a BMS World Mission worker couple
Bleak, bleak, bleak. When BMS workers Alex and Huw Anderson arrived to lead Matera Baptist Church in southern Italy in 2010, they encountered a demoralised, dejected congregation. “They were very pessimistic about their own future,” says Alex. “They were saying, ’the young people are going, nobody stays here, we’ve got high unemployment and the church is doomed.’” Ever felt like this at your church?
It has not been easy, but Alex and Huw have slowly but surely helped this congregation to overcome many of the issues they have struggled with, enabling them to look to the future with hope. Here are just some of the people whose lives Alex and Huw have helped to transform – are there lessons here for all our churches?
1. Expanding horizons
Ariana has been in the church youth group ever since Alex started it in 2006. She went on a youth trip to London that Alex organised in 2012 – a big deal as Ariana and most who went had never left their region of Italy before. Since then, Ariana’s English has come on tremendously and she is looking to study medicine in the UK. On Pentecost Sunday she will be baptised at Matera. “I think Ariana is going to do amazing things,” says Alex. “I’m very, very proud of her.”
2. Persevering with the problematic
Neo-punk-loving Giovanni also attended Alex’s youth group. Alex admits that he was sometimes ‘a bit of a pain in the neck’. Find out how, much to Alex’s surprise, God was working in Giovanni’s life, in this short film.
3. Encouraging leadership
Michele has a passion for God’s word. He works in a bus maintenance unit in Matera and reads his Bible in moments when he has nothing to do. Huw has been encouraging Michele to lead Bible studies at the church, something that Michele has taken to. “He has found it quite liberating,” says Huw. Michele is just one of the church members whose leadership skills have been nurtured by Alex and Huw. Their approach goes against the prevailing culture in Italy where the priest is usually expected to do everything.
4. Involving those on the margins
Imperia grew up in the Roman Catholic Church but began to have doubts about her religion when she was still a teenager and ended up joining a Jehovah’s Witness congregation for two years before she began to feel uneasy and left. One day she passed by Matera Baptist Church, saw a Bible study advertised and decided to give it a go. She felt so welcome at the church she stayed, got baptised and has been there for 26 years.
When Alex and Huw arrived, Alex says that “Imperia was on the periphery of the church.” They have encouraged her in her faith and her service to the church, which includes being a Sunday school teacher and visiting the very sick and old. “She has grown in confidence and spiritual maturity, says Alex.
5. Practical help and spiritual guidance
Victor is Romanian and Antonia is Italian. After getting married in London, they moved to Matera last autumn and have been part of the church since then. Matera Baptist is having an impact on both of their lives. Victor has a background in IT but has struggled to find work. Alex has helped him get into teaching English – it is early days, but it could be a new career path for him. Meanwhile Antonia was a lapsed Catholic when she started attending the church, but has been hungry to find out more about the Christian faith. She is also due to be baptised on Pentecost Sunday.
6. Hold lightly and hand over well
The Pentecost baptismal service on 15 May will Alex and Huw’s final Sunday at Matera Baptist Church. They will be moving back to the UK to be closer to family and also to allow Alex to begin ministerial training at South Wales Baptist College in Cardiff.
Despite being sad to leave, Huw and Alex are excited about the church’s new pastor who begins on 1 June. Luca Reina has been studying at ministerial college and Matera will be his first church. Alex and Huw believe he will bring a new vitality to the church.
“We’ve done the hard work, the tilling of the land, taking out the stones, the rocks and the boulders and breaking up the hard soil,” says Alex. “Luca’s full of enthusiasm and vision. He’s going to come in and be ready to sow and to plant.
“I am really looking forward to the next two years as I think this church is really going to expand and start reaching out.”
Pray for Alex and Huw as they prepare to leave Italy in the summer. Pray for Matera Baptist Church, that lives will continue to be transformed when their new pastor arrives.
This article first appeared on the website of BMS World Mission and is used with permission